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Recap / Black Mirror: The National Anthem

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Series One
The National AnthemFifteen Million MeritsThe Entire History of You

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God Save the Pork

Jane: Everyone's laughing at us.
Michael: You don't know that.
Jane: I know people. We love humiliation. We can't not laugh.
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Princess Susannah is kidnapped while the abductor taunts the police and press by releasing videos on the internet. The singular demand? That the Prime Minister have sexual intercourse with a pig on live television. Trailer here (Chance it if you want).

It stars Rory Kinnear (Callow), Lindsey Duncan (Cairns), Donald Sumpter (Julian), and Lydia Wilson (Susannah).

Nothing to do with actual National Anthems, British or otherwise.


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Tropes related to The National Anthem:

  • 24-Hour News Networks: Part of the episode's critique. The fictional United Kingdom News is the centerpiece, but real-life networks, including MSNBC, Fox, and Al Jazeera, are mentioned by name.
  • An Aesop: A rare in-universe example. The kidnapper actually releases the Princess half an hour before the 4 PM deadline into an empty London, when everybody is too busy watching the Prime Minister fucking a pig on television, solely to prove a point. Could be considered a Broken Aesop, though, seeing as he used kidnapping and sexual coercion as tools to teach a "moral lesson."
  • All for Nothing: See An Aesop above. It turns out Callow wouldn't have had to screw the pig after all.
  • Batman Gambit: The kidnapper's entire artistic point hinges on this. He correctly guesses that everyone in London will be too busy watching the televised buildup to the 4:00 deadline to notice Princess Susannah, who is released at 3:30, wandering the streets alone.
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  • Bestiality Is Depraved: The horrifying ransom demand Princess Susannah's kidnapper makes of the Prime Minister to ensure her release.
  • Black Comedy: Blacker than black. You will laugh after the ransom demand is first read out; from thereon in it gets a lot blacker and much less comedic as the full implications of the kidnapping and its ransom start to play out.
  • Black Comedy Rape: The Prime Minister is being forced to have sex against his will, yet as soon as the video of the demand is posted on YouTube, people are leaving comments mocking the Prime Minster for what he has to do. Everyone in the country is tuning in to the broadcast of the act and looking forward to it with a sort of horrible glee. This lasts for about a second once it has begun and then practically everyone is shaking their heads in horror and feeling sorry for the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, they keep watching. Also Rape as Drama as the act is awful and traumatic for the PM, and Charlie Brooker is using it as a fairly obvious An Aesop about new media. Also used in-universe: part of the whole point is to show the initial belief of Black Comedy Rape and then move to Rape as Drama.
  • Brand X: United Kingdom News, a fictional team that represents the press at large. Interestingly, other news networks, both British and global, are named, but presumably, none of them wanted to appear in the episode.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Early in the episode, a seemingly-unrelated newscast mentions a controversial artist named Carlton Bloom, who is eventually revealed as the kidnapper. Bloom can also be seen for a brief moment thirty-three minutes and sixteen seconds in, unidentified as such.
  • Come to Gawk: Everyone in the UK watches the broadcast, mostly either for amusement or out of pity. Even those expressing disgust at others for watching are watching it themselves in horror. They're all so preoccupied with the prospect of the PM having sex with a pig on live television that none of them notice that the princess was released half an hour early, which it turns out was the kidnapper trying to make a point.
  • Decoy Hiding Place: The government is led to believe the video was uploaded from an abandoned college, so a strike team moves in. It turns out to be a fake, complete with a decoy damsel.
  • Distressed Damsel: Princess Susanna, a beloved princess, is kidnapped.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: The culprit behind the whole scheme turns out to be one of the many people we see going about their daily lives throughout the episode. We only discover it's him when the camera pans to his body dangling from a rope after he commits suicide, identifiable by the missing finger on his hand (which turns out to be the one that was sent to the press).
  • Downer Ending: The Prime Minister does ... it, saves the princess, and even boosts his political career after the act. The ending shows that he's been destroyed as a person anyway, traumatized and with an utterly ruined marriage. And it turns out he didn't even need to go through with it in the first place.
  • Establishing Series Moment: The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom fucks a pig on live TV to save a hostage — something which ultimately turns out to have been completely pointless. Welcome to Black fucking Mirror.
  • Finger in the Mail: The kidnapper mails the Princess' finger to the press after it is revealed that the PM is planning on using a body double in a sex tape. However, forensic examination shows it's NOT the Princess' finger. In an appallingly extreme bluff, it's the kidnapper's.
  • Fingore: Princess Susannah's finger is cut off for the government trying to bypass the kidnapper's demand. It turns out it's the kidnapper's finger instead.
  • Foreshadowing: Scenes of the team at 10 Downing Street discussing what to do are intercut with shots of everyday Londoners glued to their television sets to follow the story. The "commoners" include a man watching from home, a group of rowdy pubgoers, an entire hospital's staff, and a rustic-looking man going about chores. That man is the only one not watching the coverage. He turns out to be Carlton Bloom, a Mad Artist who orchestrated the event to make a comment about the Internet age. Not only does his refusal to turn on the TV make perfect sense for someone who's critiquing the Bile Fascination trope in-universe, but it also serves as a clue to viewers: Bloom doesn't need to view the action because he knows what's happening already.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The kidnapper's list of demands at the end of the YouTube video.
  • Funny Background Event: The pub some of the public are watching in has a chalkboard in the background showing odds for a betting pool of various possible outcomes, including the prime minister sobbing, vomiting, and so on.
  • G.I.F.T.: In one scene, Callow's wife is looking at social media reactions to the news of what Callow is being demanded to do. Unsurprisingly, many of them are making crude jokes about the situation, mocking Callow despite the fact that the demand is for him to be raped.
  • Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: Played for Drama. Secretary Cairns tells Callow that they've arranged for some "stimulation" for him to look at during the act so he can distract himself from what he's doing and maintain an erection. Said stimulation is a large photograph of two naked women having sex.
  • Happy Marriage Charade: By the end, Callow and his wife present the facade of a happy marriage to the public, but once they're behind closed doors it's revealed that their relationship is ruined.
  • Hostage Situation: An Expy of Princess Diana and Kate Middleton has been kidnapped by an unknown group, whose demand makes up the premise of the plot.
  • Hostage Video: Two of them, one with the ultimatum (with the hostage clearly baffled at the demands), and another once the kidnapper discovers a cheat.
  • Humans Are Bastards: In between a faceless and ill-informed mob loudly braying for the Prime Minister's actions on social networking sites and watching a man who's been compelled to have sex with a pig live on national television with horrified fascination, self-serving politicians and media cynically attempting to twist the issue to their advantage while putting on an air of 'above-it-all' self-righteousness and self-importance all throughout out and the kidnapper who put everything into motion in the first place solely to prove a point and create a twisted art performance, humanity as a whole doesn't exactly come out of this one well.
  • I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!: Played for Drama, like virtually every trope in this episode. Malaika, the reporter described below, uses topless shots to bait her contact in the government for advance information on the officials' plans. Later, it's implied that she sends even more revealing pictures to thank him for his help.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Malaika, a journalist at UKN, will do anything to get an award-winning scoop — be it sending nudes to a government official for insider tips on Downing Street's next move, or deliberately walking into the building believed to be holding the princess as the strike team raids it. Deconstructed, as she's caught and shot for getting in the way of operations.
  • Let Us Never Speak of This Again: Played for Drama. When Secretary Cairns is told that Princess Susannah was released thirty minutes before the 4:00 deadline, she tells the agent on the phone to "lose that page of the report," making it clear that no one must ever know the truth. Given that no mention is made of the princess's early release in the news coverage that ends the episode, it seems as though the gag order worked.
  • Mad Artist: Who is also revealed at the end to be a Turner Prize winner in a rather blunt Take That! against the modern art world. The whole sequence of events is even described, a year later, as "The First Great Artwork of the Twenty-First Century" by a controversial critic in what may be a reference to Damien Hirst and others who made similar comments about the September 11 attacks.
  • Morton's Fork: The nature of the demand: if Callow doesn't do as the kidnapper demands, Susannah will be executed and his reputation will be damaged because he allowed a beautiful, beloved young princess to die just to protect his image; if Callow does, his reputation will be damaged because, well, he'll always be known as PM Pig Fucker. When Callow prepares to engage in the actual demand, Secretary Cairns tells him that he can't try to finish quickly and get it over with, as that will make him appear eager.invoked
  • New Media Are Evil: While shaping up to be an overarching theme in the series, its presence here is overt nonetheless. The kidnapper takes full advantage of new media to coerce the prime minister into having sex with a pig.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: A downplayed example. Home Secretary Cairns secretly arranges for a porn actor to actually perform the broadcast, with digital tricks used to superimpose the Prime Minister's head on his body. Word somehow gets out, and the kidnapper punishes the government for "breaking the rules" by sending United Kingdom News a finger with Princess Susannah's ring and a video of a masked figure actually cutting her hand. The release of the story leads to massive public backlash and forces Callow's hand even further. However, it's repeatedly emphasized throughout the episode that none of the cabinet has ever dealt with something like this before, so Cairns genuinely believed that she was doing the right thing; furthermore, she had no idea that the Internet would learn the truth and reveal the plot.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Princess Susannah is basically a cross between Princess Diana (widely popular among the public and a campaigner for humanitarian causes) and Kate Middleton (a fashionable recent university graduate, only recently married).
    • Played with in Michael Callow. While he is fairly clearly intended to be at least reminiscent of David Cameron (who, incidentally, episode writer Charlie Brooker hates intensely), Brooker has denied that Callow is based on Cameron, and notes that in any case the Prime Minister is probably the most sympathetic character in the episode. Still, Brooker was later amused to see Cameron accused of something reminiscent of this episode...
  • No Party Given: The episode never states to which party Callow belongs, though he stands in for Cameron, a Conservative PM. Word of Godinvoked confirmed it later, pointing out that he wears a Conservative-blue tie throughout the episode.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The poster for the episode, seen above, runs on this trope. It seems to be an average picture of a pig...but once you've watched the show to completion, you know just what that pig represents.
    • After the Prime Minister decides that there's no other option, he's taken inside the room where the broadcast is to take place. The soundtrack goes quiet, and all we see is a shot of a cute pig happily eating, a cameraman standing nearby. It's horrific.
    • Similarly, we only get a brief shot of the Prime Minister actually performing the action (it's just his head and shoulders thrusting forward as he sobs); for the rest of the sequence, the camera focuses on the faces of the people watching, and their disgusted reactions say it all.
  • Old Media Are Evil: From what we see of the more traditional forms of media, they don't exactly escape unscathed either, as newspapers, etc. do some pretty questionable things in the episode.
  • Pass the Popcorn: During one of the news reports discussing the reactions on YouTube and Twitter, a message to this effect is briefly shown.
  • Rape as Drama: In the end, being out of other options, Callow is forced to go through with having sex with the pig. The extreme humiliation and trauma he experiences while doing this is played as deadly serious.
  • Reaction Shot: This is how the actual demand is shown — after the Prime Minister tearfully remarks that he loves his wife and begs for God's forgiveness, the camera cuts to various people facing the screen. Their expressions gradually go from amused to absolutely horrified as the act goes on, with several viewers turning away and looking sick. One young woman remarks that it's been going on for over an hour before it's finally over...and yet, just as the kidnapper knew, they couldn't turn away.
  • Rule of Symbolism: An in-universe example. Pigs are unconsidered "unclean" animals in some religions, and several commentators suggest that the use of one for the act indicates that a terrorist group is behind the plot.
  • Save the Princess: The goal of the episode is to rescue the kidnapped Princess Susannah. As it happens, they didn't need to.
  • Sensory Abuse: In a last-ditch attempt to stop people watching the broadcast, it's preceded with a minute-long tone that supposedly causes nausea.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: As if the Prime Minister caving to the kidnapper's demands wasn't bad enough, a scene shortly afterwards reveals that he didn't have to go through with it. The Princess was released a few minutes before he did the deed, but with everyone else glued to their screens in morbid anticipation, she walked across a bridge unnoticed.invoked
  • Slave to PR: The Prime Minister; played for drama. If he doesn't do the deed, Susannah will die and the backlash will wreck him and possibly threaten his family. He does eventually acquiesce, but the experience is extremely traumatic.
  • Streisand Effect: In-Universe. The British government attempts to take down the YouTube video that demands that Callow has sex with a pig, but it only ends up making it even more popular. The news then tried to censor it by not talking about it, but it only made it more popular on social media.
  • Take That!: To David Cameron. Although played with; while the Callow/Cameron links are there, and while Callow isn't exactly a paragon of humanity himself, he is portrayed quite sympathetically and his experiences are ultimately not something to be laughed at or dismissed.
  • Viewers Are Goldfish: An in-universe example. When the story of the kidnapper's demands first breaks, public opinion is relatively split over whether or not Callow should give in—but once news of the SWAT team's failed rescue attempt and Secretary Cairns' plot to use a porn actor leaks to the press, the public instantly turns on the government and starts calling for the Prime Minister to agree to the plot immediately. Later, those same individuals express horror and disgust when Callow actually goes through with it. It's all part of Bloom's critique of new media and his belief that it is causing attention spans to decline and independent thought to vanish.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Callow performing the act itself is not directly shown, obviously.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Michael Callow finds himself on the receiving end of one after the SWAT team fails to find Princess Susannah. Either he has sex with a pig and gets mocked by the country, or he doesn't have sex with a pig, keeping his dignity but losing any chance at retrieving Princess Susannah and incurring critical backlash from the country for prioritizing his image above her life.

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